When I think of my days in kindergarten, I see a 5-year-old who enjoyed spending time with her dad and brother bicycling and roller-blading. I see a girl riding along car rides set to the soundtrack of Bob Marley, Rod Stewart, Lucky Dube and salsa. I spent days at school, making duck faces out of Pringles with my best friend Courtney. Courtney and her family moved to Florida from Africa.
Just like Cady in Mean Girls, she was from Africa and white.
We would spend time at each other’s houses swimming in the pool in the backyard, eating lunch together and, of course, sharing epic stories from the life of a 5-year-old. Her stories were interesting, let me tell you. We were besties, and we knew it. It was simple. Race had no effect on how we saw each other.
Today in America and all across the world, there’s something monumental happening in regards to the discussion on race. Racism has stubbornly, wholeheartedly and uncomfortably come to the forefront of the conversation. I’m reminded of these memories as a kid when I wasn’t fully aware of racism. I remember my genuine friendship with someone who did not look like me not being something that I ever questioned.
As Nelson Mandela famously once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, his background or his religion. People must learn to hate. If they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
“People must learn to hate. If they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” — Nelson Mandela
Throughout the last few weeks, common phrases we’ve heard are, “Silence is violence,” or “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” As an African American young woman whose parents came to America in the ’90s from a small island in the territory of Colombia, I admit that I’ve wrestled with my place in speaking on this topic. While completely aware of the history, I have, on various occasions, chosen to ignore racism toward me.
Yet, I’ve been confronted with the tension of racism too long to stay quiet.
A store clerk passively implied that I can’t afford something or acted in fear when I entered a store.
A high school classmate said, “Ligia you’re black, but you’re not blaaaack.”
A colleague said that I couldn’t be Colombian because I’m black.
A white friend asked whether “I ever wanted to be white” because of the way I dress and talk.
A black friend gave me a side eye because my favorite show is Gilmore Girls.
We each have something to offer to the world as a result of our stories.
If there’s one thing that I am learning the most during this time, it is how necessary it is to speak up. We must learn to use our voices, especially when it’s to those we love and care about. We must learn to speak up to those people who we are afraid to share our experiences with too.
We must learn to use our voices, especially when it’s to those we love and care about.
While I’m not the kind of person to be blunt, it’s in those moments of conflict or conversation that we could really change someone’s perspective. It takes grace and patience. There’s no pretense there, but it can be done. We can not afford to not have the tough conversations, no matter how uncomfortable they are. Turning the other cheek or staying silent to avoid conflict can be just as damaging as the act of racism itself.
I am learning to speak up. I am learning to humble myself and speak so that others don’t have to experience the racism we do today. I hope you’re able to speak up too.
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1,7
Have you struggled to speak up against injustice? What is one small step you can take to overcome this fear?
Image via Raisa Zwart Photography